When Todd Phillips Joker was announced, fans were skeptical about whether a villain story without Batman would make sense. And given the poor reception of Jared Leto’s Clown Prince of Crime, many wondered if the DC Cinematic Universe could indeed strike a balance between Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson while creating something original. Fortunately, Warner Bros. did just that, with Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck turning Joker into an Oscar-winning work of art. That’s why, with speculation that Phillips will consult with the studio, some believe he should do a Lex Luthor movie. However, while this could easily be DC’s best movie, it could also be its worst.
As for why this might be the studio’s best movie, the proof is in the pudding. Phillips’ direction on Joker was sublime, with everything from the cinematography, pacing, editing and score putting it in a category of its own. Some even felt it surpassed that of Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, which is why we always talk about a sequel. As such, it’s easy to see Phillips recruiting high-caliber talent, like he did with Phoenix and Robert de Niro, to bring Lex’s story to life.
Freed from continuity, Phillips can tell a cerebral story of how Lex rose from his father’s shadow, built an empire, and developed sinister aspirations. In a way, Phillips can turn Lex into a misguided anti-hero, ending up buying capitalism from the belly of the beast. After all, as Joker shown, it only takes one bad day to break.
However, as likable as that might be, there’s one problem that could make this a horrible cinematic experience – Lex isn’t relatable, and he’s the last person the cinema should be supporting for people to celebrate. It killed, worked the system, and proved what greed and corruption can buy, and there’s enough content like that on the big screens and streaming services already. Of course, Lex has had human moments before in things like Smallvillebut for a carbon copy that would not look authentic.
Lex embodies the worst qualities of the rich, using his ego to step on the chests of the poor, while making them believe he’s a good fit for society. And in our time, where sleazy politicians do the same, the integrity of the media is questioned, and social justice issues are trampled on, making this oppressive villain sympathetic through a skewed origin story would seem tone-deaf. Ultimately, Joker resonated because the character portrayed people as the man on the street who wanted change. But Lex is the poison the clown fought against, which could turn this movie into a cheap gimmick.